Burnham: No regrets on standing up to government over Tier 3 measures

Andrew Kersley

Andy Burnham has declared that he has no regrets over standing up to the government over imposing Tier 3 restrictions on Greater Manchester and accused Westminster politicians of putting “politics before people”.

In an interview with ITV News last night, the Greater Manchester mayor reiterated his opposition to the government as Downing Street is now set to impose the severe restrictions on the region without local approval.

Asked whether he had any regrets, Burnham said: “No. No, I don’t. See, when I left Westminster with my good friend [Liverpool metro mayor] Steve Rotheram, we both said what we are about: people, not politics. That’s what we’re in this for.”

“And I think it’s sometimes where Westminster doesn’t understand us. They put politics before people down there, so we’re always at cross purposes. But this was all about standing up for people whose lives are about to change through no fault of their own.”

He added: “I’ve been in politics a long time and I’ve probably seen more than anybody how the North gets pushed around by Westminster. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived through it. But on this occasion, it was a step too far.

“Because if you’re going to lock down people’s lives, it can’t be on someone else’s terms down there. It has to be right for people here, on our terms, if we are to agree to that happening. And that’s what went wrong here.

“A decision was imposed from miles away without truly understanding the impact that it would have on people’s lives, and, at some point, you have to stick up for what you feel is right for people.”

The Greater Manchester mayor has been in the midst of a fight with the government over the implementation of Tier 3 Covid restrictions in his region. Burnham and other local leaders opposed the lockdown unless more support was offered.

But negotiations with the government broke down this week as ministers refused to provide £65m in support, and it was confirmed that the region would be forced into Tier 3 restrictions from Friday even without local agreement.

Boris Johnson only confirmed in Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, almost 24-hours later, that Greater Manchester would still receive the initial £60m package of support being discussed in the final stages of negotiations.

The Greater Manchester mayor also accused the government of not understanding the cost a Tier 3 lockdown would have on normal people in the region during the 30-minute interview with ITV’s Daniel Hewitt.

Burnham said: “I needed that £75m fund and yes I probably could have found something in my own budget but that meant that £65m really had to come at least from the government, so that was my line and I couldn’t go below it.

“Otherwise I couldn’t meet the commitment to those people working in pubs, working in bookies, driving taxies. That was always what was driving me. And they don’t understand that down there.

“They don’t understand what their lives are like and they don’t really care enough about how their lives are going to change in lockdown… we’ve been under three months of restrictions and they come at a cost.”

On whether he would like the Prime Minister to visit Greater Manchester, the Labour mayor said: “Of course, I would welcome him to come up here now to, if you like, clear the air, talk it through, reset things on a better footing.

“I’m not after anything that is a lingering political argument. I did what I did for the right reasons and it gets misunderstood down there… Manchester has always had a constructive pragmatic relationship with whatever government of the day.”

At a parliamentary committee meeting this morning, Burnham said he was left “open-mouthed” after the government said it would announce more support for businesses in Tier 2 areas despite leaving many regions without support for weeks.

Since the committee panel, the Chancellor has announced the new measures, including business support equal to 70% of that provided to areas under Tier 3 restrictions in a statement to the House of Commons.

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